New Bishop of Chelmsford announced

As the Church Times blog and Sam Norton report, Stephen Cottrell will be the new Bishop of Chelmsford. This was officially announced by Number 10 Downing Street.

(Why is it up to the Prime Minister’s office to make these announcements? I thought Gordon Brown had given up any part in deciding on bishops. Anyway I find it offensive that secular authorities have any part in choosing leaders in the church – but that’s another issue.)

In many ways Stephen Cottrell seems a good choice for this job – except that unlike the last five of the nine holders of the post he is not called John! He has been well regarded as Area Bishop of Reading since 2004. He is only 51 and so should be able to serve Chelmsford for many years – unlike recent post holders: only one of the five Johns served more than ten years. He received several positive mentions in comments in a post at the Ugley Vicar last September about possible candidates. Cottrell was brought up in Essex, and writes (as reported by the Church Times blog):

For me coming to Essex and East London feels like coming home.

But this appointment is bound to be controversial in some quarters. Only last week John Richardson, a vicar who will be serving under Cottrell, wrote in a post Erroneous and Strange Bishops:

When Jeffery John was forced to stand down as Bishop of Reading, the appointment of Stephen Cottrell as his successor was greeted with enthusiasm by evangelicals within the Diocese of Oxford. Yet John and Cottrell are both members of the liberal group, Affirming Catholicism, and a glance at the cover of this book (published in 1998) is a salutory warning that the two men may differ little in underlying theology. For what reason, then, was Cottrell welcomed in place of John, other than that he was not a homosexual?

Indeed as I write John Richardson has just posted his own announcement of this appointment, with a link to his earlier post and the text of a press release – but no personal comment as yet.

0 thoughts on “New Bishop of Chelmsford announced

  1. In another post on this subject John Richardson quotes from a 2004 article in The Times by Ruth Gledhill, in which the then Canon Cottrell had this to say about homosexual practice:

    An adherent of church policy on homosexuality, Canon Cottrell said: “My personal view has been one that has been open to what God is trying to say to us through the experience of gay and lesbian people. I feel this is an open question. My mind is not made up.”

    Canon Cottrell said he had supported the choice of Dr John for Reading when it was announced last year. This, he said, was because Dr John also backed the official line and as a celibate homosexual was not himself in breach of church policy. …

    He called for less talking and more listening on the issue of homosexuality. “First of all we need to listen to God. We need to listen to the witness of Scripture. We need to listen to gay and lesbian people in our churches. My hope is that as a bishop I can begin to create an environment of trust and honesty where we can begin to listen to each other.” …

    Speaking at a press conference in Reading, Canon Cottrell said: “I think too much has been made of disagreements in the Church. In any family there are disagreements but disagreements don’t stop you from loving one another. In a funny way, it’s how you manage those disagreements that shows your love.”

    If Bishop Cottrell keeps to this line in Chelmsford diocese, and doesn’t campaign against the official church policy as his predecessor John Gladwin did, he should be acceptable to his congregations and clergy.

    In yet another post John Richardson quotes from the website Asian Image (which seems to have managed to interview Cottrell already) that

    The next Bishop of Chelmsford has urged people in his diocese not to vote for the British National Party in the forthcoming general election.

    By the way, the last five bishops of Chelmsford had John as their Christian names. This is nothing directly to do with the story about bishops with the surname John.

  2. The suggestion that “If Bishop Cottrell keeps to this [official] line in Chelmsford diocese, and doesn’t campaign against the official church policy as his predecessor John Gladwin did, he should be acceptable to his congregations and clergy,” reads to me like, “If the vicar keeps to the official line on the Trinity/salvation/the existence of God (despite not having made his/her own mind up on these subjects), he/she should be acceptable to his/her congregation and bishop.”

    Something not quite right there, methinks.

  3. John, we can never know anyone’s private thoughts or doubts, so we should accept people on the basis of what they say and do. Anyway I would reject your implication that this issue of homosexuality is on the same level of importance as “the Trinity/salvation/the existence of God”. I would have expected you to commend Cottrell for saying “First of all we need to listen to God. We need to listen to the witness of Scripture.” – and only then, important but secondary, “We need to listen to gay and lesbian people in our churches.”

  4. Peter, these are not private thoughts! The Bishop has said publicly what he thinks.

    As to the importance of the issue of sexuality, it depends whether you think the Bible teaches that God identifies same-sex sex as a sin, or not. As Bp Cottrell has commended us to listen to God and Scripture, I think that is where he would want us to start.

    The problem I, and a lot of other people are going to have, is with whether he thinks the first ‘listening process’ allows his ‘don’t know’ answer to be sustainable.

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  6. John, my point was that Bishop Stephen at that time publicly declined to express any specific opinion on the issue. Also this is something he said before even being consecrated as Bishop of Reading. He may have made his mind up by now, or maybe not. But if he now chooses to keep silent on this issue then I don’t think we should condemn him on the basis of a non-committal answer from six years ago. But let’s see what, it anything, he says about the matter now.

    I am intrigued that you allow that anyone well informed might NOT “think the Bible teaches that God identifies same-sex sex as a sin”. Do you see any exegetical basis for this position? Or are you suggesting that your future bishop might be ignorant about the relevant Bible passages?

  7. Peter, you wrote, “I am intrigued that you allow that anyone well informed might NOT “think the Bible teaches that God identifies same-sex sex as a sin”.” For an example of this approach try reading James Alison, especially his essay ‘”But the Bible says …”? A Catholic Reading of Romans 1’

    He concludes,

    “It is my view that Romans 1 has quite simply nothing at all to do with what we call homosexuality. I hope I have shown that it is perfectly possible to read it in such a way as to respect the integrity of the text, to show appreciation for, and agreement with, St Paul, and to show how Paul’s argument is an important step towards formulating a major doctrine of the Church, without saying or implying anything at all for or against so-called “homosexuality”. It is not my claim that this reading which I have given you is the real reading of St Paul, that exactly this and no more and no less, is precisely what he meant. I don’t think there is such a thing as the real reading of this text. I think that there are better and worse readings of the text, and more importantly, that there are more Catholic and less Catholic ways of reading the text, because reading the text within the Church is an infinitely creative exercise in giving glory to God and creating merciful meaning for our sisters and brothers as we come to be possessed by the Spirit breathed into us by the Crucified and Risen Lord.”

    I don’t agree with him, but he is a probably one of the best examples of a neutral-revisionist (rather than sceptical-revisionist) reader of Scripture on this issue.

    As to Bishop Stephen’s views, I do not think he declined to express an opinion. He expressed a ‘Don’t know’, over against the position of Issues in Human Sexuality, further reinforced in the House of Bishops’ document Some Issues in Human Sexuality. The significance of the position expressed in these documents is shown by the fact that all ordination candidates are required to show an awareness of and willingness to abide by what they require.

  8. Thank you, John, for the link to this interesting and informative essay. I am glad that you, like Bishop Stephen, are sufficiently “open to what God is trying to say to us” to give this argument consideration and publicity, even while you disagree with it. I haven’t read this yet, but I am just about to.

    Of course this does not cover Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Joel Hoffman is correct to point out that the verses in question don’t specifically say that “God identifies same-sex sex as a sin”, as they don’t use the language of sin. But it is clear from them that God strongly disapproved of homosexual practice among the Israelites. The only question then is whether this, like blood sacrifices, circumcision and food laws, can be understood as a law for Israel which does not apply to Christians today – probably not, but this needs detailed study.

    Nor does this article deal with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, but that’s another matter.

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